Community is safe in villages – Let us not make them unsafe

Bhaskar Majumder

It should surely be taken seriously that Bharat till date is distanced from community transmission of Corona virus 2019/2020 or COVID-19, as reported by the Government of India. This is notwithstanding the fact of death of persons exceeding 20,000 and affected persons more than 7,00,000 while around 10 million had already been Corona-tested. There remains 1290 million to be tested, conditioned by constant net birth rate. The completion of testing may take a decade or so at the current rate.

While the state is hardly any unit of analysis in medical lexicon, in functioning of administration and policy-making the state on the circumference as a unit of analysis matters. Thus, people have come to know that eight states in India have so far covered around 90.0 per cent of all the casualties – Uttar Pradesh (UP) is praised much more than once for its Corona-success – UP carries a size of population more than the Corona-affected second ranked Brazil across countries. Brazil ranks second so far, but time is there to defeat Brazil – it is World Cup football distanced.

Let me come to the core point – it is absence of community transmission. I visited two villages in the district of Allahabad, UP intensively in the first week of July 2020 to make home the same point – community is safe. Alternatively, the elite that live outside community are safe. If the spreaders are virus-untouched so far, how can they be spreaders or super spreaders of the virus?

The village communities were hardly bothered about the virus, as I observed. They were engaged in their daily intra-village activities like cultivation, animal husbandry, petty business like selling tea/intoxicants/samosa from own tiny shops. Many were seen taking water from public hand pumps maintaining no social distancing or 'do gaz doori' (two-metre distance).

In the selected villages in the district of Allahabad, I did not find any Corona patient. As reported, in one of the villages no official came to see how the resident people were living. However, they got food quota. In each of the villages each family decided not to fall ill to live doctor-distanced. Nobody was taking food outside to live restaurant/Dhava-distanced; everybody was cleaning hands though not with soap-sanitizer always.
The selected villages were religion-contrasted – one was Hindu village and the other was inhabited mostly by Muslims. In the former the Gram Pradhan was found to be active in Corona awareness; in the latter the Gram Pradhan was invisible. It might have been perceived that illiteracy-ignorance of the communities in villages or in urban slums could act as spreaders for they could not have relevant information around the medical needs to be tested and to use soap-sanitizers, masks and so on. What I observed in the villages was natural distancing and not social distancing. Natural distancing was because of less population density, open private and public space, single-storey house and trees and plants and water bodies. The natural food habit helped them – it was not necessarily vegetarian.

In each of the villages the destination-locked migrant workers came back home. The mode of travel was walking to aeroplane. For some walking took nine days and more. The spread of information through electronic mode like TV on monotonically increasing number of persons affected by the virus generated panic among some adult people in the villages. They, however, had not much idea about the virus – some opined it was air-borne; some opined it was by human-touch, some opined it was because of spitting and so on. I found insignificant spitting by people in one of the villages selected and no spitting in the other during the time I talked to people. School-going children were not home-locked, with exceptions; they were found in public mango garden.

In one of the villages there was caste-distancing and neighbour-distancing that was delinked from Corona; in the other there was community bonding based on religious faith. A neighbouring country was accused in each of the villages as the source of the virus – nobody, however, came forward to provide evidence.

The villagers were living intra-village now post-100 day lockdown. Even the returnee migrant workers were in the mood of taking some leisure at home with tolerable misery – materially speaking. It was distanced from backward bending labour supply curve. Some of them decided to go back to the previous destination like Gujarat where they were engaged in plastic chair manufacturing – brand name Neelkamal.

As I understood, community transmission was a state concern where the village people were seen as objects. The villagers were observed to spend their own ways of living like taking common bath in the pond and children swinging on rope-converted swings together fixed on the branches of trees. Open defecation was unobserved, though my duration of village visit was between 10 am. and 5 pm. the time that is generally avoided for the purpose.

The reasons I opine the above based on my observations and interactions with the village people were to have first-hand ideas on community behaviour post-lockdown of 100 days that seem to be a reasonable long period from the point of view of the villagers.

I did not study slums in the cities so far that also could be thought of as zone for community transmission of the virus. But what surprised me so far was the way the well off members from families in the metropolitan cities was affected by the virus often leading to unwelcome consequences. This may raise the question who transmits and who receives the virus. As reported, the major affected zone included mainly the advanced states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Delhi. Also, as reported, the affected zones were the major cities.

The state concern remains a national concern for if the villages are affected, disaster may explode. Caution is, of course, needed. But then food security is also needed. So cultivation is also needed. Where do the communities go?

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad - 211019

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Jul 12, 2020

Prof. Bhaskar Majumder

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